Google did the research : outstanding leadership in 15 easy questions

Google speaks up !

What makes the best leaders “outstanding” ? If you are Google, you can afford to put a lot of time and effort in finding the answer to this question.

In 2008, they started “Project Oxygen”,  an internal inquiry to determine which qualities a person needed to reflect in order to assume a leadership role.  They determined that their most successful managers all shared 8 behavioural features.  As a logical result, Google made sure that each manager would be trained in those specific qualities.

But the company kept on growing and their internal organisation became more complex. This called for a second look at the outcome of their previous research. After all, the qualities that had defined an excellent manager years ago had evolved with the times.

After 10 years of rigorous research,  the result were these 15 simple questions  :

1.My manager dares to make difficult decisions (e.g., decisions that involve multiple teams, or with conflicting priorities).

2. My manager knows how to collaborate with others beyond the boundaries of his/her team or the organisation.

3. My manager has the technical expertise needed to lead well (e.g., programming skills in IT, sales in a Sales Department, Accountancy in Finance).

4. My manager communicates clear goals for our team.

5. My manager knows how to keep the team focused on its  priority results/deliverables.

6. My manager does not "micromanage" (he or she doesn’t get involved in details that should be handled at different levels).

7. My manager gives actionable feedback that I can use to help improve my accomplishments.

8. The actions of my manager indicate that he/she values the perspective that I bring to the team, even if that differs from his/her own.

9. My manager regularly shares relevant information from his/her manager and from the senior management team.

10. My manager  shows consideration for me as a person.

11. From time to time, my manager gives me a challenging task/project to help me develop my career.

12. In the past 6 months, my manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about my professional development.

13. I would recommend my manager to other colleagues.

At Google, each team member gives his/her manager a score ranging from 1 (I totally agree) to 5 (I totally disagree).

They also answer two open questions :

14. What do you recommend your manager to keep on doing ?

15. What would you like to see different with your manager ?

Soft skills are what matter most

This is a remarkably short list of questions. Yet Google finds it works as an excellent barometer to measure the quality of their managers.  It demonstrates that teams with good scores on their managers deliver better results, enhance retention and give better scores on the yearly employee satisfaction enquiry.

It also demonstrates that soft skills are what matter most.  Interestingly enough, only one question (number 3) is about technical competenties.  All others pertain to soft skills : communication, feedback, coaching, teamwork, respect and consideration.

You could argue that a company such as Google doesn’t require a lot of technical know-how of their managers because there are enough technical experts in their teams.  But isn’t that the case for most companies ? And doesn’t technical and functional  expertise belong to the team members anyway?

Along with Google, we can safely conclude that you don’t become a good manager through your knowledge or expertise but through the way you deal with your team. The best managers ensure that their team books success and that each individual team member contributes to this success.

So what can you do with these findings ?

We know that good managers make sure that all team members are dedicated to the success of the team. We also know that they do this by paying as much attention to the wellbeing of each team member as to obtaining team results.

If you are a manager, we suggest that you use this list of questions to self-reflect.

How do you think you’d score on each question ? How would your colleague-managers score you ? How do you think your team members would score you ?

Better yet : ask your team !  The mere fact of showing the courage to ask these questions, will bring you one step closer towards outstanding leadership.


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